Mumbai Airport – a chaotic experience! 🙂
From the flight, I entered the crowded airport terminal building in Mumbai at 2:30 am. At least 3 unrelated queues seemed to be cutting through each other in a system that apparently no first-time visitor was supposed to understand anyway. Designed to confuse first-time visitors, I guess. I asked an Indian couple if they had any clue whether this was the right queue. “No idea! Welcome to Mumbai!” was their laughing answer!
The zigzag queue was moving fast, only slowing down whenever airport staff was cutting through it. “You can fill in the forms later. Just get screened first” a lady shouted through a mouth mask. From the swine flu declaration form distributed on the flight, I assumed this was some pandemic control effort.
Suddenly, the queue ended in front of some 20 counters. There was no system whatsoever, just a first-comes-first-served rush to the counters. One was free, so I went there, but the person behind it was asleep. Fortunately, the adjacent counter became free the next moment.
“Proceed to immigration control” he said, taking my declaration form without even looking at it.
At the end of a new, fast-moving queue, ending at some 40 new counters, stood an airport official shouting out a number for each passenger passing. “19” he shouted when it my turn, meaning go to counter 19. Apparently, his job was to keep an overview of the queues at each counter, and decide which queue each passenger should go to.
Another quick look at the passport, and then another passport control immediately after. This time only one entrance point for all, hence a much longer queue.
Finally I was in the arrivals hall. Aggressive salespeople from a duty-free shop were trying to hook in anyone who as much as looked at the shelves. 3 minutes and one Johnnie Walker later, I was trying to find the luggage band for flight 543 from Dubai. Some signs would’ve been useful, but I managed.
“What’s in that bag” the gentleman at some new luggage screening point wanted to know. “A wedding gift” I said. I was about to specify the contents of the 2 boxes, but he just waved me through.
The friendly old couple seated next to me on the flight, had strongly advised me not to take any of the taxis outside the airport. The safer alternative was the Prepaid Taxis with offices inside the airport building. They had fixed prices with upfront payment, and dedicated drivers, pre-empting the most common kinds of taxi fraud.
190 Rupees to the Sahara Star Hotel, and of course they didn’t take cards. The only ATM was at the end of the hall, past a checkpoint with a security guard trying to look busy. “Excuse me sir” he said as I walked past him. “Just getting cash in the ATM”, I said without slowing down. “OK” I heard from behind me.
To the delight of the exchange bureaus that only ATM was out of order. Luckily, the ice cream at the airport in Dubai was too tempting, so I had to withdraw some extra cash before the flight. Those remaining Dirhams in my pocket suddenly came in handy! The meager amount of cash I carried, turned out more than enough for the taxi.
Eventually, I found myself in a taxi on the way to the hotel. Interrupted only by a few stops where the driver assured me “just a moment sir”, before disappearing for a few minutes every time, I finally arrived at the hotel, only a few blocks away from the airport.
Sahara Star Hotel
From the outside, the Sahara Star looks like a sports stadium under construction. From the inside, it’s a different story. The cylindrical building surrounds an inner court with a night club, an aquarium and an artificial lagoon. With a handful of restaurants and bars as well, it looks like a popular spot for hotel guests and locals alike.
The hotel staff were extremely friendly though, and overwhelmingly service-minded. While checking in, I pulled out 2 simple phrases in the local language, Marathi. Pretty much the only ones I knew. That was so popular among the hotel staff, though, that it took me a while to get the hotel room for myself after checking in. The guy who brought my luggage to the room even wanted to call some of his colleagues to the room just for them to hear a gora speak Marathi. I almost felt bad about refusing, but I was simply dead tired!
OK. More from the trip will follow soon! 🙂